The Long Now of Ulysses: Curating Literature after the Internet
This spring and summer, Leopold and Molly Bloom, Stephen Dedalus, Buck Mulligan, Blazes Boylan and the whole Ulysses entourage will be featured in student-curated exhibit called “The Long Now of Ulysses” in the Maltwood Gallery of the McPherson Library at the University of Victoria. The exhibit has been driven by the belief that Ulysses is finally a novel of the everyday. It is co-curated by the graduate students of Jentery Sayers’ “Introduction to Digital Humanities” and Stephen Ross’ “The Modernist Novel” courses in the English department at the University of Victoria, with support from the Maker Lab in the Humanities at UVic. The students developed the exhibit methodologies, selected content, and produced rationales, while the faculty handled logistics and provided guidance.
The rubric of the “long now” combined with an experiment in selecting excerpts to produce an often surprising set of displays anchored in Ulysses but by no means restricted to it. The “long now” situates cultural products such as novels, films, poems, paintings, music, architecture and design – as well as practices, beliefs, and ideologies – in historical contexts that are at once broad and deep. In this respect, the “Long Now” lets us treat Ulysses as a launching pad for considering enduring issues of concern, and to reassert the importance of cultural production as a means of engaging with the long now of our own cultural moment. The experiment in selection accepts the challenge of those devotees of the novel who claim that you could open it anywhere and find something interesting and provocative: we developed an algorithm to identify the excerpts we would use for the exhibit. Given that the novel is set on June 16 and was published in 1922, we have taken 6, 16, and 22 as significant numbers. Starting with the first page of each episode – using the 1922 first edition now available in digital facsimile on mvp.uvic.ca – we counted six pages in and sixteen lines down from the top of the page and then excerpted 22 lines of text.
The algorithm itself is not random, but the results are. This constraint forced our students to branch out from the text into both its immediate contexts and the long now of modernity.
The resulting creative and curatorial work is often astonishing. The students responsible for curating the content combed through the University of Victoria Art Collection and Special Collections at the UVic’s McPherson Library; hunted up historical artifacts such as newspapers, hair curlers, and shaving kits; and produced original artwork to illustrate the “long now” of Ulysses.
Others designed software that can help focus time for the sort of deep attention that Ulysses requires and repays so handsomely:
Some created Facebook profiles for the main characters in the novel:
And some guessed at Bloom’s potential Google search history:
As this little sample shows, Joyce’s novel continues to inform our engagements with the everyday reality of modernity, and to shape how we understand so many of the key issues that confront us everyday. Now if only there were a little book of Bloom’s sayings one could turn to for a clever closing phrase…
The exhibit opens 17 May 2013 in the Maltwood Gallery at the McPherson Library of the University of Victoria. It runs through mid-August. If you will be in town for a visit, vacation, research, the Digital Humanities Summer Institute, the Congress of the Social Sciences and Humanities, or simply because your flight got cancelled, please drop by and say hi. The exhibition is generously supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the Maker Lab in the Humanities.
Associate Professor | English | U. of Victoria